Review of Instinct: A Study in Social Psychology
by L.L. Bernard
Jacob Robert Kantor
INSTINCT: A STUDY IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY. By L. L. Bernard. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1924. Pp. 550.
Human science is undoubtedly advancing. Naturally this advance is spiral rather than linear. Not only is the subject-matter infinitely complex and many-sided, but unlike the materials of the non-human sciences, the particular happenings, as well as types of phenomena, are important. Accordingly, even the isolation of the data is difficult. Where is the line dividing ethnological from historical, or better still front sociological, data? The present volume, being a discussion of instincts, raises the question not only of the relationship between sociology and social psychology, but also the connection between individual psychology and biology. Because human phenomena, on the side of behavior at least, are historical, psychological, and biological, the slow and uneven progress of the human sciences can be accounted for to a certain extent on the basis
( 430) of the confusion of the different kinds of descriptive facts and interpretative principles involved. Whatever slight progress, therefore, that is made in the human or social sciences is unfortunately correlated with a great many missteps and retracings.
To take the case of sociology. No doubt sociologists date the scientific development of their discipline from the time that it began to incorporate psychological principles as a method of study and interpretation. But unfortunately with this annexation of psychological principles sociology entered upon one of its most serious missteps. Taking over psychological principles really meant that the sociologist thought of himself as coming into possession of elements that could be used as ultimate causes and explanations of the phenomena with which he dealt. These principles were, of course, the instincts. They were presumed to be the springs of human action capable of explaining the facts of social organization in the first place, and all of the accruing conditions and circumstances of human living. Obviously this was a mistake. With the increasing development of historical and statistical methods and facts, the simplicity of such explanations clearly proved to be misleading. In recent years also the psychologist himself has discovered that instincts are not above suspicion as actual facts. They are easily found to be sheer biological abstractions. One of the recorded advances in the social sciences and especially in sociology is the correction of this error.
Here then is the problem of the present book. Professor Bernard undertakes a study of the nature of instincts with a view to ascertaining their place in the field of sociology. Accordingly, to the attack upon instincts because they are merely hypotheses, that they are not concrete facts, that they cannot be experimentally studied, and finally that an objective psychology has no place for them, the author adds in the present work an onslaught based upon the value of instincts for social improvement and control. The problem of instincts, therefore, in this volume is handled from the standpoint of the relative contribution of inheritance and environment to the development of social institutions and the control of social phenomena. That instincts exist Professor Bernard does not doubt. That they have great value in the complex development of human society he denies. His work consists for the most part of a careful study of the misuse of the conception of instincts and its untenability in accounting for the intricate phenomena of social life. Instincts he believes are the bases and foundations of such phenomena, but their complex development is a matter of habit formation. Professor Bernard's conception is based upon the old Spencerian psychology. Accordingly, he believes that instincts represent only biological or neural bases for simple
( 431) action and that for complex action to occur, "mental" processes must also take place. Indeed such mental processes are somehow presumed to be the outcome of, and built upon, these neural activities.
While Professor Bernard's rejection of instincts as the causes of conditions of complex human life can only be applauded, his grounds for doing so do not merit the same approval. Furthermore, these very grounds foretell an unsatisfactory issue in the adequate handling of the facts of social life. While it is true that the sociologist may have a different attitude toward the whole instinct problem than other students of human phenomena, it may be safely assumed that the interests of sociology are best served by an ascertainment of, and a reliance upon, the most veracious facts available at any particular time. Accordingly, Professor Bernard's belief that sociology must take account of instincts, although they are not important, is not a felicitous addition to his argument. If he means by instincts the mere functions of neural mechanisms, then what possible connection can they have with the complex human phenomena which is the subject-matter of sociology?
Two methodological dangers may be pointed out as attending upon the retention of instincts in one's sociological thinking. In the first place, one is always in peril of making instincts into animistic powers or forces. Or, if not, one reduces sociological facts, in their psychological phases at least, to sheer abstractions. If Professor Bernard has escaped the animistic peril he has calmly embraced the other. In detail, he reduces the whole gamut of complex human behavior to "habits" that have displaced or grown up upon instincts. Is this a fair conception of the infinite variety and richness of complex human responses to all the stimuli conditions and circumstances which surround human individuals? The second danger arising from an improper apportionment and organization of biological human facts is to overlook entirely the actual human circumstances that constitute social life. The instinct conception as a biological or psychological basis for social phenomena misleads us away from the infinite complexity of actual cultural and historical facts which are not only the data of all human sciences but are sufficient for all explanatory dealings with human phenomena. Commerce with instincts or biological bases for social phenomena is like attending to the materials out of which the walls of the theater are built and thereby missing all the intense and copious drama that is in process on the stage. Or worse still, it is like accounting for or explaining the drama in terms of the material of the walls.
Our criticism of the volume before us indicates clearly the need to distinguish between psychic-sociology and social psychology. The pres-
( 432) -ent work, being concerned with psychic principles of human conduct, belongs to the former rather than to the latter type of study. Social psychology can be clearly distinguished from psychic-sociology in that the former is exclusively concerned with the historical acquisition of all cultural behavior on the part of the individual in concrete interaction with actual institutional things, persons, and circumstances. Social psychology developed on the basis of such concrete psychological events has no use for forces or powers, or biological abstractions, even if they consist of judiciously selected neurology. For such psychology, mental life is in no sense a development of "psychic" process on the basis of biological mechanisms, such that complex psychological behavior is called psychic while simple psychological conduct is termed biological. It is the province of such a social psychology to exhibit the cultural interaction of persons which constitute so much of the data of the social sciences. Only social psychology, it is submitted, in conjunction with other disciplines, can be of real worth to sociology and its sister sciences. Social psychology, and not psychic-sociology, is the discipline that can supply the data and principles constituting the thought, feeling and other psychological facts which contribute to the progress of the human sciences.
J. R. KANTOR